Eskomos double-up on track titles

Last Wednesday was likely the nicest weather to don upon Esko Stadium this spring. As pleasant afternoon skies shined down on the artificial turf, a calming breeze brought smiles to hundreds of track and field competitors faces and temperatures h...

The anchors for the Esko and Carlton 4x100 relay teams race to the finish line during the Polar League Championship held at Esko High School last Wednesday. Esko senior and anchor Suntina Spehar ultimately won the race with her relay teammates senior Alexis Smalley, seventh-grader Merle Mrozik and junior Selena Shady. Sharon Lahti/

Last Wednesday was likely the nicest weather to don upon Esko Stadium this spring. As pleasant afternoon skies shined down on the artificial turf, a calming breeze brought smiles to hundreds of track and field competitors faces and temperatures hovered in the 70s.

It was almost as pretty as the Eskomos' performances.

Like so many years before, Esko again earned two-times the track titles when the hosts doubled-up boys and girls victories at the Polar League Championships last week at their own multi-million dollar prep venue.

Overall, the Eskomos combined for 297.5 points, with the boys boasting 162.5 to top runner-up Two Harbors and the girls getting 135 to edge defending champion Cromwell-Wright. For Esko, a team of about 80 athletes, plenty of blue- and gold-uniformed kids commenced the evening in high spirits after once again sweeping the conference crowns.

"I think the kids take pride in it," said Esko boys coach Gary Beaudot. "We were happy with them. They work together every day to get better at their events, and for all of it to come together in a meet like that, it was exciting. They are really coming together."


Beaudot watched his boys win seven events last week, including Dawsen Cossalter claiming the fastest-ever conference time in the 100-meter dash in a blazing 11.21 seconds.

"You think about all of the kids who have run the 100 over the years and that's a pretty neat deal," said Beaudot of Cossalter, a 100- and 200-meter state entrant last year. "To be the fastest ever is pretty cool."

Cossalter also won the 200 in 23.47 seconds and leads off Esko's 400 relay team with Declan Sinnott-James, Seth Shingledecker and Jaxson Turner, which also posted conference best mark and one of the state's fastest times of 44.25 seconds. Esko’s 800 and 3,200 relay teams were also victors.

"It's a nice group," continued Beaudot of his speed demons.

Shingledecker also won the 400 and teammate Tate Olson the pole vault. In the jumps, South Ridge springer Jake Carlson collected each of the long and triple titles.

Meanwhile, Moose Lake-Willow River was again competitive, placing third with 122 points, as distance runner Ethan Olson won the 1,600, while Sam Coil carded victories in both the discus and shot put. Each were apart of the Rebels group at the state True Team meet (along with the Cloquet boys) in Stillwater last Saturday. For ML-WR and sixth-year coach Tony Andres, it was their third consecutive trip down south.

"We are pretty deep top to bottom," Andres said. "That's the way I like to coach - as a team.

"It's been a fun year because it's been about the whole [group]," he continued. "We have a couple top dogs like Ethan and Sam, but everyone else around them are high-quality jumpers, sprinters and good relays."


Esko’s Trenton Menor was a member of the 3,200 relay winners last week. The senior has been to state in the event twice and hopes he can make it back to Hamline University again. The sub-section 7A meet began Wednesday in Esko as this edition of the Pine Journal went to press. Sections continue June 2 and state is June 10-11.

"It's an exciting time of year and we may have a little home field advantage," said Menor of postseason track being in Esko this year due to Malosky Stadium in Duluth being under construction. "Everyone is a different athlete, but in track, everyone has their role. Whether the 4x100 or the two-mile, everybody contributes in some way. And the state track meet is the ultimate goal."

Esko girls coach Scott Arntson said his squad's goal was to win the conference last week, and they did just that, counting four victories - in the 400- and 800-meter relays, as well as the high jump by Suntina Spehar and pole vault via Emily Bryant - to take away Cromwell-Wright's hopes of repeating as champs.

"It meant something to them," said Arntson of winning the conference, "and they ran their butts off."

One of those was Lexi Smalley, as she sprinted on the victorious relay teams, while also finding enough time to run the 1,600 relay and do the long jump when getting a breather. Not to mention the four-sport senior also plays softball, walking over to the ball field right after track finishes. On her busiest of days, she'll put track meets above softball practice and softball games in front of track practice.

"It kind of started as a joke, but then I actually signed up and joined the team - I don't really know softball that well," chuckled Smalley, a reserve runner for the Eskomos, which begin playoffs today, Thursday, May 26. "It's been a blast. I'm so happy I did it."

With postseason play picking up for both her sports, Smalley is sure to be a busy gal. She may even get to participate in both sports at state, if lucky enough.

"I'm fortunate that this week works," she said. "I haven't even looked at the following one yet."


In addition to Smalley's success, a list of county contestants were also winners last week, as Carlton's Erika Fox swept the 1,600 and 3,200, while South Ridge's Makayla Goerdt - of Cherry - won the long jump and ML-WR's Kennedy Bryant the triple jump. South Ridge also took the 3,200 relay and RyAnna Anvid the discus throw.

Even more impressive however, was Cromwell-Wright, as according to coach Dave Foster, he had just 12 girls with him that day, including shot put winner Kaylee Besch and senior superstar Andrea Hakamaki - a three-time state qualifier - who won the 400, 800 and helped the Cardinals to the 1,600 relay title.

"She's a special kid," Foster said of Hakamaki. "I'm going to miss her."

As for the dozen girls he had, scoring 126.5 points - just 8.5 behind the new champs?

"If you do the math, we were were spread out pretty well," Foster said. "We were real thin. It would have been really cool to go back-to-back [champions]. We didn't get there. We were close."

Arntson's Eskomos were just a little deeper on their home track.

"It was something they set out to accomplish. People stepped up and they just gave it their all," said Arntson of his versatile group. "It was easy to be proud of them."



Speaking of being proud, Cloquet's Kayla Baker fits the bill in every sense of the word.

Less than a week after being named the Lumberjacks' senior female athlete of the year, Baker blitzed her way around the Bromberg Field track last Friday to set the school's new 800 record in 2:18.2, breaking Halee Peterson's previous mark set in 2011.

Baker said fellow running teammate Anja Maijala also ran the race, helping push her to the top time.

"I was very tired," admitted Baker, an all-around runner for Cloquet who also plays soccer and hockey. "When I crossed the finish line, I wasn't sure I broke it, but then my coaches found me - I was surprised.

"There were a lot of high-fives, hugs, smiles and support," continued Baker, who will attend the University of Minnesota next fall. "It was a really good experience."

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